The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen has failed to reach a deal on the reduction targets of industrialized and emerging nations for greenhouse-gas emissions, although it set a goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius over the coming years and developed nations made a financial commitment to help poor nations cope with the effect of climate change.
Last month, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) published “State of World Population 2009 — Facing a Changing World: Women, Population and Climate,” which focuses on other aspects of the climate change issue such as how climate change affects people and what kinds of policies, apart from energy efficiency and industry-related policies, should be pursued to mitigate the effects of global warming.
It notes that climate change hits the poor hardest, especially women who make up the majority of the world’s 1.5 billion people living on less than $1 a day. Since the poor tend to live in areas vulnerable to rising sea levels, severe drought and fierce downpours, climate change is expected to worsen poverty and health problems as well as trigger large-scale migrations.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts that global sea levels will rise 18 to 59 cm in the coming century. Indonesia could lose as many as 2,000 small islands by 2030 as a result. The UNFPA report says that women die in greater numbers than men when disasters strike and tend to die at younger ages, although data are insufficient due to the lack of emphasis in the past on the gender impact of natural disasters.
The report notes that women are among the most vulnerable to climate change because they make up the larger share of the agricultural work force in many countries. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, women produce roughly half the world’s food — from 60 to 80 percent of food in most developing countries. Drought, heat waves and floods impose hard laboring conditions on women in many developing countries since many of them carry water from rivers and other fresh water sources and take care of family members.
In sum, the report says that climate change’s influence on people is “complex — spurring migration, destroying livelihoods, disrupting economies, undermining development and exacerbating inequalities between the sexes.”
It puts world population in 2009 at 6.829 billion — an increase of 79.70 million or 1.2 percent from 2008. World population topped 6 billion in 1999. It predicts that world population will reach 9.150 billion in 2050, meaning that 2.3 billion additional people will need food and water. Average population growth from 2005 to 2010 has been 0.3 percent for more developed regions, 1.4 percent for less developed regions and 2.3 percent for least developed countries.
Average global temperature has risen 0.74 degree C since the late 1800s, but the report says the temperature could rise by as much as 6.4 C by 2100, noting that, since 2000, human-caused carbon dioxide emissions have increased four times faster than in the previous decade.
As the report notes, “the vast majority of the world’s population growth today occurs in developing countries, whose contribution to global greenhouse-gas emissions is historically far less than those of the developed countries.” At the same time, “emissions from some large developing countries are now growing rapidly as a result of their carbon-intensive industrialization and changing patterns of consumption, as well as their current demographic growth.”
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of UNFPA, says that “voices that invoke ‘population control’ as a response to climate change fail to grasp the complexity of the issue,” adding that “human rights and gender equality should guide all population and development-related programs.” She calls for upholding the right of women and couples to determine the number of and spacing of their children and for expanding women’s opportunities to fully participate in their societies and contribute to economic development.
Along these lines, the report says universal access to reproductive health, including family planning services, combined with improved education of girls and gender equality, would boost economic development and reduce poverty while contributing to declines in fertility, which in turn would help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run.
The report stresses the importance of empowering people — especially women, who must adapt to the changes caused by climate change and to the policies developed to mitigate climate change — and the effectiveness of solutions based on communities’ knowledge of their immediate environment.
Japan has been aiding developing countries in the area of public health, including the fight against infectious diseases. From now on, it should help work out not only measures to increase transfer of low-carbon technologies to developing countries but also those that take into account population dynamics, gender equality and poverty reduction.
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